(MOSCOW) — Russia reiterated its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on Monday by accusing the West of blackmail in trying to get Moscow to support tougher sanctions against Damascus.
Over the past few weeks, there have been signs that Moscow might be losing patience with al-Assad, who has stepped up his military offensive against those who want him to relinquish power amid 16 months of violence that have left an estimated 17,000 people dead.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a strong condemnation of Western efforts to push the Syrian president and other leaders into accepting a political transition that might end the conflict the International Committee of the Red Cross now terms a civil war.
Lavrov said the attempts of other governments to get Russia to go along with stricter sanctions contain “elements of blackmail.”
The foreign minister said if Moscow continues its stance against more penalties, the United Nations would end its observer mission, a possible precursor to military action.
Lavrov added that al-Assad “will not leave power. And this is not because we are protecting him but because there is a very significant part of the Syrian population behind him.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Mohammed Tawfeeq and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
Holly Yan, David Williams and Steve Almasy, CNN